Olivia Culpo leads a busy life. This month alone, you can catch her navigating Fashion Week on E!’s Model Squad, starring opposite Bruce Willis on the big screen in Reprisal, and teaming up with major retailers for branded partnerships (most recently, she was named spokesperson for nutrition brand Vital Proteins). But the 26-year-old model, actress, and influencer didn’t always expect she’d be living such an extravagant lifestyle. As a kid, Culpo simply hoped that she’d be able to support herself when she grew up.
“I dreamed about being comfortable on my own someday,” she tells InStyle. “It was scary to think about potentially having a lack of money or things that I needed to survive in life — obviously that’s always a nightmare when you’re younger. But I also saw how hard my parents worked every day, so they set a really great example. They taught me that nothing was going to just fall right into my lap, and that I had to work in order to get the things that I wanted.”
Culpo began earning cash at a young age thanks to a built-in gig at home — she is one of five siblings, which meant babysitting. “My first job was as a babysitter,” she says. “I was always watching my younger brothers and sisters, or I would clean the kitchen for my mom for a little bit of money.” As a teen, she landed her first job outside the family, although she was still surrounded by familiar faces. “I worked as a coat check girl at my best friend’s restaurant,” she says.
After that, Culpo headed off to college at Boston University, and that’s when her ultimate career path began to take shape. “I got my first big modeling job, which was for a Keurig coffee maker campaign, and I was very excited,” says the trend-loving star, who naturally hit the stores to spend some of her earnings. “The first thing I bought was a pair of flared Rachel Zoe pants, and then I also went to Filene’s Basement in Boston — which I don’t even think exists anymore — and got a pair of really old, vintage Prada shoes. They were literally, like, 99 percent off.”
While continuing to land modeling jobs, Culpo’s career took yet another turn. She entered her first-ever pageant in 2012, taking home the title of Miss Rhode Island USA before going on to win Miss USA and Miss Universe that same year. Financially, it marked a monumental occasion. “I had a salary for the first time in my life, so it was a real, grown-up job. There was so much that I learned, even just about taxes! I didn’t do my own, but I was in awe of write-offs and the differences between tax brackets. I found it all so interesting to learn about, and knowledge is power — especially when it comes to finances.”
Keep reading for more from Culpo on her obsession with coupons, her approach to #ads on the ‘gram, and how she really feels about splitting the bill on a date.
On the best money advice she’s received… My dad always taught me about the importance of saving, being frugal when you need to, making sure that you’re not being stupid, for lack of a better word, with your money, and just to really value it. He was 30-years-old with five kids and he didn’t know what to do; he started his whole business from there. He showed me not only that you can start later in life, but also that if you work really hard, you can make anything happen.
On feeling financially independent… I’ve always known that I need to support myself, and I feel like now, there’s a new generation of women who are so inspirational. The modern woman today is somebody who is completely self-sufficient and stands on her own two feet, and it’s such an important thing to me to be a part of that generation. I can’t think of a better ideal version of myself than to be somebody who’s completely financially independent, as opposed to somebody who needs to rely on another person — whether it be their boyfriend or husband or parent or who knows.
On her saving habits… I am a big fan of coupon codes. You should always try to check out the coupons — especially when it comes to renting a car! But even when I’m just buying something on a website, I always search to see if there’s a sale code. I’m very savvy with Googling the right things to try to get any sort of discount. That’s my thing.
On her biggest splurges… Beauty products. I allow myself to purchase them without feeling too terrible about spending. In a way, it makes me feel like I’m loving myself and spending time to take care of myself, similar to the way you would go to the gym and work out. When you put things on your skin, they go into your body, so you have to make sure you’re careful about what you’re putting on. I think a lot of women feel that way; that must be why it’s a billion dollar business! But pampering yourself is a way of telling yourself that you love yourself, which is a very important thing. Just treat yourself.
On posting sponsored content… I always think about what I would want for my followers. I have a pretty great idea of who my follower is and what she’s like, and I’m not going to support something that wouldn’t be healthy for her. There’s so many different products that are out there, and personally, I am sort of a product junkie. I’ll try everything and anything you give me and I will let you know what I think of it, and I have a very open-minded mentality when it comes to trying new things. While that’s helped me in this industry, I would never endorse something that I didn’t think was right for somebody. That’s my moral clause.
On making smart business decisions… I’ve learned that you really, really have to do your homework. You cannot phone it in, and you can’t just assume that everything’s going to work out if you don’t put in the work beforehand. You need to make sure that everything is exactly the way that you anticipate it to be and the way you want it to be, because if there’s some oversight, you will pay for it 100 percent. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes making a few wrong decisions and overlooking a few things to learn that. We all learn things every day, but that’s the advice that I would give to somebody: just be afraid. Be very afraid, because things can go wrong.
On her biggest money mistake… I’m going to throw my sister under the bus with this one. I had told her that if she sold my car, I would give her 15 percent of the profits. She tried, tried, tried, and I was finally like, “Okay, that’s it. You’re not doing this.” It ended up sitting in a lot, baking in the sun, and depreciating in tons of money, so I had to take it to CarMax. I learned that sometimes if you want to get things done, either don’t ask a family member or just do it yourself. And no, my sister did not get her cut!
On discussing finances with friends… I love talking about money. I’m very interested in finances and the many ways to increase the money you have — stocks, the market, bonds, everything. It really depends on the friend that I’m with and the situation that I’m in. We all have to have some sort of social etiquette, so when it’s not appropriate to talk about money, you should not talk about money. But I definitely have certain friends that I confide in. It can be really scary at times, because you don’t always know what to do and it’s nice to cross-reference, especially with friends who are in the industry. I always ask them, “What do you think about this? Does this sound normal to you?” You just have to have friends that you can talk about that stuff with.
On splitting the bill on a date… It totally depends. I personally enjoy treating the person that I’m with or a friend or whoever it is to a meal, because it shows that you appreciate them and you worked hard to be able to do these types of things. I do think that when you’re trying to win over a girl, it’s pretty common knowledge at this point that it’s nice to pick up the bill. It’s chivalrous and polite when you’re trying to pursue somebody and show them a good time. But no, I am not opposed to splitting the bill.
On the best thing that money brings… Opportunities, [comfort], learning experiences, travel, and education. To a certain extent, money can absolutely change your life and make you comfortable. But once you pass that threshold and have an exorbitant amount, it can blur the lines between what is necessary and what’s not. Values can get confused when you’re living in excess. You don’t know why somebody is valuing you, whether it’s for you as a person or for your money.